Barack Obama’s former chief of staff has commented the former president’s warning about Russia’s alleged meddling was “dramatically watered down” by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Speaking to NBC’s Meet the Press, Denis McDonough said it has taken three weeks for Obama to put together a bipartisan statement on Russian meddling, which was not as robust as it could have been because of McConnell’s involvement.
“During the course of 2016 [we] became alarmed about what we were seeing and it became, became very clear to us what the Russians' intentions were,” McDonough said.
“So we took a series of painstaking steps, including the president directly confronting President Putin, us going to Congress to press them to work with us to make sure that the states were doing everything they could to protect the sanctity of every American's vote,” he said, adding: “And then ultimately releasing a very powerful statement from the secretary of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence calling attention to this threat. So we did exactly what we think we needed to do.”
He was challenged by Meet the Press host Chuck Todd, who pointed out that Obama mistakenly previously said following his actions, Russia did not continue to interfere in the election.
Todd played a recording of Obama saying: "I felt that the most effective way to ensure that that didn't happen was to talk to him directly. And tell him to cut it out. And in fact, we did not see further tampering of the election process."
“Based on the Mueller indictment of the internet research agency, we now know that that is not true,” Todd said of Obama’s previous comment. “That we know the troll farms were working, particularly there were specific references to October 16th in 2016, November 3rd.”
Asked whether Obama and his team should have done more to tackle the problem, McDonough pointed at the actions of McConnell as the reason the statement was softened.
“The president asked the four leaders in a bipartisan meeting in the Oval Office to join him in asking the states to work with us on this question. It took over three weeks to get that statement worked out. It was dramatically watered down,” he said, confirming this was due to McConnell.
His comments come as Trump has recently hit out at Obama for failing to take firm enough action on Russian meddling; however, McConnell’s team responded to McDonough’s comment by sharing an op-ed written by McDonough last year where he called the statement successful, NBC reported.
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